By Ernie Palladino
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Give Joe Girardi credit for this: he’s not playing into the Derek Jeter Farewell Tour hype.
Good for him. Better the Yankees manager should worry about his team as a whole rather than catering to one single, albeit iconic, player. Especially one whose body continues to creak before the world’s eyes.
Rather than engage in wistful and wishful thinking, Girardi appears to have a firm grasp on the realities of Jeter’s situation. That is, the last few days were not an aberration of 2014. Rather, they were a preview of what the season holds for Jeter.
It started with the schedule — Saturday’s day game after a night game. Then came the tight quad. If it’s just the muscles, Girardi will sit him down for a day, perhaps even two if an off day comes up next, as it did Monday. Then, Jeter goes back into the lineup until the next discomfort or scheduling quirk comes up. He would have been in there Tuesday against the Cubs, but the game’s postponement afforded him yet another day of rest.
Whether it happens at the end of a high-profile series against the Red Sox, as it did Saturday and Sunday, or one of those glorified minor league rosters sprinkled about the league, Girardi will pull him, rest him, and put him back in the next opportunity. No pressure.
Jeter won’t like it, of course. He is nothing if not competitive, and he will buck like an unbroken bronco against the move. Yet, Girardi will be there to save him from himself and, more importantly, save his team from the perceived obligatory burden of playing a fading great when the situation dictates healthy youth.
Jeter, nearing 40, has become what he never thought possible — a player who needs to be managed. That’s not a criticism, just a sad fact of body defeating mind. It happens to everybody who doesn’t answer to the name Mariano Rivera.
Give Girardi all the credit in the world for ignoring the Jeter countdown boxes of the media. As he said earlier, the Steinbrenner clan doesn’t pay him for managing a farewell tour. He’s got bigger things on his plate, like guiding the Yanks back into the postseason. To keep his job safe and a demanding fan base happy, he’ll need every usable tool in the shed. He’s just not going to force it with an old, aching shortstop. That’s a bad tool.
It’s not like Jeter will never play. Unless another bone snaps, the farewell ride will continue with only intermittent stops. Day game after night game, it’s Dean Anna time. A twinge in a quad or hamstring, Anna.
Surely, nobody cares about Anna. They want Jeter because, for some reason, people have an understandable fascination about seeing their favorites one last time.
The real issues come with the fans who are just now showing up, and then heading home disappointed for missing their only chance to see Jeter in person. The question for them is, “Where ya been?” Joe Torre and Girardi have run him out to shortstop for the last 20 years. He’s turned in legendary plays, sparked countless winning rallies, driven in hundreds of runs, and compiled the franchise’s all-time hits number. This? This is just the end. Nothing he does this year will top any of that.
Well, maybe a World Series-winning home run in Game 7 would. But Girardi has to get him to that point first. To do that, a few fans are going to have to live with their disappointment. But that’s their problem. They missed the really good part.
Again, keep in mind that Jeter, hitting .286 with two doubles and an RBI in the 10 games preceding his rain-extended, four-day vacation, is not the manager’s accomplice. This is all Girardi and his sense of responsibility, not to a single player’s legacy, but to an entire franchise’s future. Bet that if Jeter ever does go into a prolonged slump, he’ll get even more days off.
Whatever Girardi has to do, he’ll do. Good for him. A year from now, nobody will remember the Farewell Tour. They will remember how the Yanks ended the season.
If it’s in the postseason, preferably the World Series, those idle days for an aging, aching shortstop won’t even rise to the level of a slightly unpleasant memory.
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